SCOTUS Opinion: Court Holds Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act Preempts State Employment Law

Brian Newton worked on a drilling platform off the California coast, where his employer paid him for time on duty but not for his time on standby, when he could not leave the platform. He filed a class action in California state court, arguing that state law required the employer pay for standby time. The employer removed the case to the federal district court, which held that state employment law did not apply because the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act designated the area where the platform was located was governed by federal law, and the Fair Labor Standards Act displaced California wage laws. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that California’s laws did apply because they were not incompatible with federal law. The Court, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Thomas, reversed, holding that state law is not applicable in areas covered by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act unless there is a gap in federal law that needs to be filled. The Court also held that state law should not apply even if it was possible to satisfy both state and federal law at once—in other words, federal preemption is exclusive, and allows the adoption of state law only as surrogate federal law where there is a gap. A link to the opinion in Parker Drilling Management Services, Ltd. v. Newton is here.